Thursday, September 25, 2014

Leave Them Wanting More: Godzilla 2014

It's funny, 1999 has long been a significant year in the Godzilla franchise. 1) The future when Destroy all Monsters happens. 2) It marked the reboot of Toho's interest in the franchise after the 1998 Godzilla. 3) It's the date of the "first" Godzilla attack in the third Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla. 4) It's the year Joe Brody's life turns to shit in the 2014 reboot.

The introductory sequence for Godzilla 2014 shows us a history of man's depiction of monsters, and grainy government footage that gets redacted before our eyes. For the non-hardcore Godzilla fan, this associates Godzilla with the fantastic monsters depicted in the ancient illustrations, and brings them to the present day. At the same time, and this is more important for the more dedicated Godzilla fan, it implies a manipulation of the past, a false history, a sense that what we know is not exactly what happened. This prepares both groups for the differences between the Godzilla they know and the Godzilla they are about to see. It's a brilliant piece of subtlety that also functions to establish a deep history for the film, one that acknowledges Godzilla's relationship with nuclear weapons testing.

Godzilla, in the 50's

After a lovely CG nuclear detonation, the Godzilla title is then shown amid floating dust motes, and the implication is clear: Godzilla is fallout from nuclear testing. This is the sort of referential respect that gives this film more heart than the hollow 1998 film. Clearly, Gareth Edwards studied the franchise, and used them to build a film of his own.

Legendary had, the previous year, produced Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim. If any studio was going to let the director sit back and do what they felt necessary with giant monsters, this was it. Edwards' Godzilla cost $30 million less than Pacific Rim, and ultimately made a hundred million more at the box office, but I can't think about one without considering the effect of the other. I suspect Pacific Rim showed that the production of Godzilla was possible, and broke the idea of non-silly kaiju films to general audiences. Legendary's gamble has paid off. They now have two franchises. It's also clear that Legendary has it in for San Francisco. Both Trespasser and Godzilla trash the Golden Gate Bridge.

Maybe it's the paint job...

Gareth Edwards' Godzilla takes a lot of modern ideas and mixes them in with the usual Godzilla stuff. Strained father-son relationships, so often apparent in JJ Abrams' work, are used with a more humanizing hand. The obsessive nature of conspiracy theory is utilized as the wedge that drives Joe and Ford Brody apart.

The handling of the military is very different from previous films. Having just watched 1998 Godzilla, in which the military is portrayed as buffoons, it's something of a relief for the military to be portrayed in a positive light. In the Japanese films, the military is there for show, but is seldom portrayed as incompetent. Godzilla vs Hedorah and Godzilla vs Mothra are rare exceptions. And as Japan becomes more comfortable with its military, as it is in the Heisei Gamera and Godzilla's Milennium series, military action becomes more valorized. In order to gain Naval cooperation, certain Naval values had to be portrayed on-screen. I didn't think it was heavy-handed.

Godzilla, in the 50's

Also of historical note is Ken Watanabe's initial appearance, wearing a tribly and a vest, said to be similar to Eiji Tsuburaya, special effects director for the Godzilla films from the 1954 Godzilla until 1969's Godzilla's Revenge. It's a very subtle nod, but there are a lot of subtle nods in this film. His character is Dr. Serizawa, who I assumed was the son of the Dr. Serizawa from the 1954 film. This connection is not supported by the comic; Serizawa in the film had an eyepatch, he does not in the comic.

Ken Watanabe pays tribute to the Master of Monsters

Another interesting piece of Edwards' direction is his ability to convey the size of what the viewer is seeing. The human-kaiju interactions are excellent. Often, the creatures are too large to be framed entirely.

In what is a lovely call back to the first set fo Godzilla films, Dr. Serizawa attempts to kill the MUTO crysalis by electrocuting it, similar to the way Japan attempted to hold Godzilla off by erecting gigantic power lines. Didn't work then. Doesn't work now.

Electricy. Has it ever killed a kaiju?

This is also the first film since the Godzilla Raids Again to spend time in the wake of the monsters' rampage. We see broken bodies, refugee camps, individuals with the thousand-yard stare. These details set the film more firmly in reality, showing us the effects of the monsers gives power and reality to those monsters. So that even when they are no on screen, their presence is felt. Much of the film refelcts recent disasters that have been caught on video, with a lot of attention to the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent Fukushima reactor disaster and exclusion zone, as well as recent American experiences with Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. There's a bit of 9/11 imagery present, also. When buildings fall, they billow tremendous clouds of smoke.

Not Godzilla, but what happens in his wake.

The MUTOs are an interesting, unexpected design. They are not massive, but rather achieve their size through very long limbs, giving them a spidery appearance. Their heads are sleek and pointed, as are the ends of their limbs. They are much more developed than many kaiju. They have a life cycle, and there's a touching courtship where the male MUTO brings a dowery nuclear missile to the female. I like the sexual dimorphism, that each sex has different characteristics.

Hey baybeeeee!

Godzilla's new design is a good homage to the classic Toho films: three rows of spines, the arms more proportional to a human than a Tyrannosaur, upright gait, and atomic breath. He is covered in keloid scars, as with the original Godzilla, one of many tributes to the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His actions are similar to the late Showa era, heroic Godzilla, but there's also that 1954 feel of a true force of nature that cannot be resisted.

ROAR, bitches!

The end fight is a fantastic pay off. Godzilla can overpower any of the MUTOs, but when the work in concert, he's in trouble.

Hey baybeeeee!

I've read a lot of complaints about the lack of time devoted to Godzilla in a film that bears his name. It doesn't bother me. That the initial fight is mostly left to the imagination (some of it can be seen the initial fight ) because the important part, the reveal of Godzilla and his terrifying battle roar, is. The Honolulu airport battle is brilliant, slowly showing us the MUTO, the destruction it causes, and then Godzilla stepping in, at which point it cuts away. This runs counter to audience expectation, but perfectly fine because it increases the appetite for the next confrontation. The battle in San Francisco is enough for me. It didn't last long enough to become repetitive or dull. Leave the audience wanting more.

The Battle at Honolulu

Brody, who has been our main character all along, tears the female MUTO out of the fight by burning her eggs, which could be a nod to Aliens or the 1998 Godzilla. This allows Godzilla to take on the MUTOS one at a time. That he can do.

FIGHT!

Godzilla finally defeats the male MUTO by smashing it with his tail, in a move similar to one displayed in Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. Which seems appropriate. Godzilla is a brute in that film, and he is also a brute here.

Godzilla,s first finishing move

And then he performs his now-famous finishing move. Which is in line with the early Showa films. Godzilla's heat ray was not effective against Anguirus in Godzilla Raids Again or King Ghidorah in any of his appearances. I wonder if it would have been different if he's pried their jaws open and shot atomic fire directly into their necks.

Eat hot plasma, MUTO!

While Godzilla is more indestructible than he has ever been previously, since he survived ground zero at the fifteen megaton Castle Bravo blast. But he isn't invulnerable. He's hurt when a building gets dropped on him. He gets hurt fighting the MUTOs, and is clearly exhausted when it's all over. The best comparison I've heard is that Godzilla is a grumpy old man. He doesn't want to come out and bash the MUTOs, but that's what he has to do. And he does it well, but he needs a nap afterwards. Heck, I suspect that's how I'll feel when I get to be 60.

Grumpy Old Man

Is Godzilla 2014 a perfect Godzilla film? No. It has flaws. Did it exceed my expectations for an American reboot of the franchise? Yes it did. The designs were solid, the sound design fantastic, and the plot didn't make me roll my eyes. I have also realized that this film follows many of the plot points of Godzilla Raids Again. Godzilla emerges to fight its traditional enemy: Anguirus/the MUTOs. Godzilla and its opponent can be lured, either by flares or by nuclear weapons. And of course, it all famously goes down the tubes and Godzilla trashes Osaka/San Francisco.

Next up, back to Toho with the final installment of the Rebirth of Mothra.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Attention to Detail Does Matter: Godzilla (1998)

It should have been awesome. Roland and Emmerich had created movies like Independence Day, which had showed us destruction on a massive scale. How much more difficult could it be to make a good Godzilla film, which would just need the destruction scenes from the duo's previous film, only attributed to a gigantic lizard with atomic breath, rather than aliens?

Blow up a building!

Apparently quite difficult. 1998 Godzilla is not a remake, it is a reimagining of the Godzilla idea. It looks at Godzilla as a 'realistic' perspective, that of an actual creature, rather than a metaphor. And this is only part of the film's problem.

There are two things you need to know about Godzilla. One, Godzilla is an unstoppable force of nature. It comes and goes like a tornado or a hurricane, and the best you can do is hunker down and wait for it to pass. The 1998 Godzilla film does not understand this. Like other American films, such as King Kong, Q the Winged Serpent, even Cloverfield and Pacific Rim, there is one solution to a monster: firepower. This means that the delivery of the firepower, once the monster is discovered, must be delayed until the end of the film. Because if the solution is so simple, why wouldn't it be deployed as soon as the monster is discovered?

Godzilla ducks a missile.

This leads to many of the story problems in 1998 Godzilla. Since the military becomes involved at an early stage, there must be some sort of plot armor that Godzilla has which prevents it. And there is, but it requires some severe contortions of believability to function. The monster vanishing in the middle fo New York City was plausible in Beast from, 20,000 Fathoms, after all, phones were few and far between, all of Earth's satellites were natural, and the rhedosaurus is less then three stories tall. Godzilla is a monstrous creature sixty meters tall, which should be easy to spot from any observing helicopter hovering over the city. Therefore two things interfere with the military's ability to locate and detroy Godzilla: Godzilla can tunnel, and their own incompetence.

The military is treated like a bunch of clowns.

The tunnelling is laughable. Gigantic Godzilla digs its way through the warren of tunnels below New York, but later in the film, it can't reach our protagonists when they hide in the 34th street tunnel.

The military incompetence displayed in Godzilla is radically different from what is shown in Japanese Godzilla films. Yes, the military is ineffectual, but they are not blunderers who destroy the land around them. Here, the majority of the building-smashing is done not by Godzilla, but by the military firing missiles and guns. Which is unsatisfying. We can watch the military destroy buildings watching any one of a hundred military films. But there are precious few giant monster films. Why not let the titular star of the film to the fun stuff?

Further, and this stands out in stark contrast to 2014 Godzilla, soldiers are the only people killed. And they are not mourned. The USS Anchorage is hit with torpedoes and sunk. This is never mentioned again. There is no emotional depth to these deaths, they are just there as a way to convey that something has gone wrong, but soldiers are not treated like people who have lives and families and hopes. They're just there to get killed in order to raise the stakes. And I find that irritating and irresponsible, considering how often ideas from films can work their way into the public consciousness. This is one of the reasons I was not as irritated by the way the military was handled in Godzilla 2014. They had been treated so shabbily in this and many other films that I was willing to see them get some props.

We blew up what?

The second important thing sbout Godzilla is that he has an atomic heat ray. While this is present in the film, it's weak, only used twice. You can see the fire under his tongue once, so it's not that Godzilla breaths on something and makes a fireball. It really has that heat breath. But it's much more akin to Gamera's fireball than Godzilla's heat ray, at least partially because Americans are very funny about radiation. At any rate, I can understand the film makers not emphasizing it. 1954 Godzilla did not display his atomic heat ray until attacked during its second landing in Tokyo. Godzilla 1985 did not show the ability until after it had consumed a reactor core. Roland and Emmerlich have said they were going to wait until the second film, in effect giving Godzilla junior a power-up. So I'm Ok with that.

Under the tongue flames. Kind of neat.

Some things the film attempts to get right, but often ther significance is lost because the film makers don't put any emotional weight behind the scenes. The danger of being a fisherman, the footprint. The characters are from the Godzilla molds, the scientist and reporter, and the scientist's girlfriend. But it's the nineties. Doesn't the scientist's girlfriend deserve to be someone in her own right? In an imitation of one of the most powerful scenes in the original, the French run a scintillation detector over a shipwreck survivor. But it doesn't hold the same cold horror that the act held when they were running them over Tokyo's shell-shocked children in a hospital. And that's something endemic in the film. Moments don't mean anything. They convey no emotional weight. Roland And Emmerlich say that are cerators of 'popcorn' films in the featurette on the disk. Which means they don't have to work hard on their plots. They just maneuver things until they link up, and off they go. Less work on their part.

Radiation detected, but who is this guy?

Standing in an old-render footpring.

Godzilla is not on screen much, which means that we spend the rest of the timer with the human characters, and despite being such a large cast, they are by and large unsypmathetic. Matthew Broderick is so affably everyman that it's difficult for me to sympathize with or respect him as a scientist. I don't buy him as an authority. The reporters are either Charlie Caiman, unsympathetic, or Audrey Timmons, spinelessly put-upon. Hank Azaria is wasted on Victor Palotti, whose one function is to get footage that is taken away. Only Philippe Roaché, the French Secret Service man, seems competent or has any agency. Everyont else reacts. Philippe takes initiative and accomplishes tasks.

Philippe Roache tells it like it is

The entire Mayor Ebert mess just makes the scriptwriters look petty. The characters aren't interesting, and as the real Ebert said, why not have them get chomped or squished by the monster if the point is filmic revenge? Whenever they show up, I'm pulled out of the film thinking about the real Siskel and Ebert.

And Ebert is a very good writer in film.

I find the lack of consistency in the film irritating. Godzilla's mighty tread causes cars to jump, but it can walk right past Caiman without rocking the building? This comes up later in the next New York Monster film, Cloverfield. The creature thunders as it walks, unless it's off screen, in which case it can be quiet as a mouse. Which isn't that unusual, since tanks can perform the same trick. When Nick is trying to call the military, all the phone circuits are jammed. Fifteen minutes later, Philippe is able to call him without a problem from a pay phone.

He's tip-toeing.

The film seems determined to set up 'funny' moments, such as Godzilla sneaking by Charlie Caiman when he's asking for a bigger story, or lifting the truck with the guy who doesn't know what's going on because he has his earphones on. Or Victor finally gets the videotape to go into the camera in time to just miss being crushed by Godzilla. Ho ho.

HAW HAW! He didn't notice the monster!

And there's pure nonsense in the script. If Tatapolis thinks Godzilla is male, why is he even buying home pregnancy tests? Home pregnancy tests don't even work on dogs, let along lizards. The top secret tape of the Japanese man is cut like a movie, in fact the very same shots from the film. Couldn't they afford one uncut take?

I don't mind the redesigned look of Godzilla. It's different, and yet has many of the hallmarks of Godzilla. Larger arms than a T-Rex, bipedal ambulation, three rows of spines down its back. The CG could be better, had it been done by Industrial Light and Magic, rather than Centropolis Effects (which closed its doors in 2002). Small details, like the choice of CG company, can make a big difference.

Not bad, just not great a build.

More than any other Godzilla film, and possibly more than any other film I've reviewed, this film is a conglomeration of scenes from other films. Three stand out: Jurassic Park, Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and Q the Winged Serpent.

First up, Jurassic Park. The baby Godzillas act a lot like the raptors, Godzilla chases a taxi in a similar fashion to the T-rex chasing the SUV in Jurassic Park, and Godzilla's rampage bears a striking resemblance to the one from The Lost World: Jurassic Park II. It's a pity that Roland and Emmerich didn't take Speilberg's sense of seriousness along with the homages.

The homages to Beast from 20,000 Fathoms are fairly obvious. Like the Rhedosaurus, Godzilla comes to New York via the fishing docks. Both creatures arrive in New York in order to breed. Both get lost in New York's vast cityscape, although this is much more believable in Beast. Both creatures cannot be taken down by conventional military; the Rhedosaurus because it carries a virtulent disease, Godzilla because the military is incompletent. Both films also include the Flatiron building, although Godzilla blows it up.

Hey, you appeared in movies before!

Finally, there's a fair amount of Q the Winged Serpent. Both creatures lay eggs, where the Rhedosaurus never managed to do so, and in both, one hatches at the end of the film. Both monsters are brought down by conventional weapons, although the Winged Serpent is killed merely by gunfire, where Godzilla sucks up eight missiles. In an interesting paralell with Beast the signature building, the Chrysler building, is blown up by the military in Godzilla, where it served as a refuge for the Winged Serpent. I wonder if Roland and Emmerich watched these films, identified buildings in them, and said "let's blow them up."

Take THAT, Winged Serpent!.

Godzilla 1998 was not a failure at the box office. It made close to four hundred million dollars, more than half of that in foreign markets. Not bad for a hundred and thirty million dollar film. However, the film demanded a larger take from the theaters themselves than any previous film. So the theater owners felt like they had been sold a bill of goods, but had to show it anyway. Despite being shown on more than three thousand screens for a full minth, the box office take plummeted. From $55,726,951 the first weekend to less than half of that, $18,020,444 the second week, and then $9,712,119, and finally $6,202,337, all while showing at the same 3,310 screens.

KILL HIM!

Ultimately, Godzilla doesn't take itself seriously, doesn't have a lot of dignity. It's an excuse for the writers, directors, and producers to have a laugh, and explore some of the monster films they liked. And it's this split nature of the film, half-joke, half serious, that makes it emotionally unavailable. If it had been one thing consistently, and of course I favor the serious, it might have been a better film. Godzilla causes destruction on a massive scale, but he doesn't actually kill people who aren't military. How can a giant lizard be a disaster if no one ever gets hurt? The Godzilla Juniors kill four people on-screen. Godzilla doesn't kill anyone directly. Because if people die, then it's awkward to make jokes, either in the script or visually.

If it leaps like a raptor, it must be Godzilla Spawn.

It's not a great film. But it exists and it was seen by enough people that it cannot be ignored in a serious discussion discussion of the Godzilla franchise. David Kalat is very perceptive when he writes that it united the fans and the non-fans. People wanted to know what the hell was wrong with the film, and they turned to fans, Godezuski and Kalat himself, to understand why the 1998 Godzilla wasn't Godzilla. And it galvanized the Godzilla community into realizing what Godzilla really is, by providing a negative example of what it isn't.

Not bad, just not great a build.

Next up, American Godzilla 2014.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fear the Thousand Aquamothras! Rebirth of Mothra II

The year is 1997, and with The American Godzilla in production, Toho continued with its Mothra franchise. This is a direct sequel to the first film in the series. Moll and Lora, the shobijin, are back, albeit with new outfits.

well, they're dressing less clashy

And psycho-sister Belvera is back, also, and with a veeeeery strange costume.

Good to see you're not letting conventional couture hold you back, sister

We have the tried and true environmental awareness, a trope with Toho's Mothra since Godzilla vs Mothra, Battle for the Earth, and going even further back to Godzilla vs Hedorah. This film doesn't slam the theme into your face for minutes at a time, as the previous one did.

Mothra, just like the last film. LOVELY PLUMAGE!

This film also marks the end of an era. Tomoyuki Tanaka, who had produced more than two hundred films for Toho, including a large number of Kurosawa's films, and the entire Showa and Heisei series of Godzilla films, passed away just before this film came out. He was the last of the Gang of Five, Director Ishiro Honda, Special Effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya, Haruo Nakajima in the suit, composer Akira Ifukube, and producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, to still be involved with the franchise. Nakajima is the last of them alive, and did make a (sadly cut) cameo in the 2014 Godzilla.

Initially, the plot problem is that the ocean is infested with acidic goo-spitting starfish. They can't be from Earth, so this must be yet another alien invasion. This is set among the amusing hijinks of two boys who like a girl, and express this by bullying her. Oh how the minutes fly.

Kids, and the way they respect each other.

Again, the film draws on a drowned, ancient civilization, Nilai Kinai. A repetition of the idea found in the original Gamera, as well as the Heisei Gamera series,, the Seatopians of Godzilla vs Megalon, and of course the Mu civilization from Atragon. This is different from Infant Island, where the Shobijin originally come from. The Infant Islanders are stone-age Pacific Islanders, and never had a technological civilization. The largest influence is Godzilla vs Mothra, Battle for the Earth, since the Nilai Kinai civilization created Daghara, which destroyed the civilization.

Green light says civilization is a go

When activated the Nilal Kinai pyramid looks like a cross between Borobudar, on Java, and some sort of Mayan structure.

Still looking for the Godzilla in this relief

Our first glimpse of the new antagonist Dagahara, is the same one we got in Return of Godzilla and Godzilla vs King Ghidorah; he wrecks a submarine. This monster was genetically eingineered by the advanced people of Nilai Kinai. But in an error, it spews out the acid-goo starfish that are giving the coast of Okinawa so much trouble. The design isn't revolutionary, but it works just fine. Quadrupedal, with wings, it has a long neck and a crown of three horns. The face is more alligator-like than lizard-like, and seems to have been an influence on Pacific Rim's Leatherback.

Crown of horns, Dagahara is looking evil

It is massive and simultaneously aquatic, which becomes apparent when it starts to fly.

Because flight and swimming go so well together, especially in kaiju

Weapon-wise, Dagahara has a spiralling purple energy breath, some sort of shoulder-mounted canon, and can fire energy bolts from its spines. It's strange to see the creature with all the different offensive energy blasts. Godzilla has one or two at the most.

Dagahara says BLAM!

This Mothra is the same one that triumphed in the last film. With green eyes, and a straight edge to the front of its wings, this looks more combat worthy than the previous, more round-winged Mothra design. It has an array of energy weapons, and as with the previous film, it gets an additional power just before the last big fight. This time, Mothra gets a shield, which deflects Dagahara's energy weapons. It also changes its wing and eye colors (back to blue).

Green light says civilization is a go

And it can transform into an aquatic form, with fins rather than wings. Too bad Momma Mothra couldn't do that last movie

Does Mothra look like an X-wing fighter to you?

And this, the end of the final battle, is when things get weird. As with the first Rebirth of Mothralast film, Mothra divides itself into hundreds of smaller Mothras, and these fly down Dagahara's throat. There, like little X-Fin fighters, they fire off lasers that destroy the acid-goo starfish.

Stay on target!

Mothra then draws its enemy out of the water, and drops it on the pyramid. Many explosions ensue, and then the stone pyramid turns to water. Sure.

Shouldn't have mortared all those stones with gasoline and gunpowder, I guess

Rebirth of Mothra was a decent enough kaiju film after the first half an hour. This follow-up feels like it's loaded with padding. Lots of running up and down pseudo-Mayan corridors chasing after the overly-cute Ghogo, Mothra's running engagement with Dagahara seems drawn out. The envoronmental message has been softened somewhat from the previous film, and the kids are less obnoxious. It'll be less annoying with subtitles, which should be available on the Blu-Ray collection released two days ago. This feels like a higher-budget Gamera picture with nonsensical plot, kaiju powers showing up out of nowhere without explanation, kids who are unsympathetic, and a lot of magical thinking. It's kids' fluff, not meant to be remembered, just consumed and discarded.

All these complaints are minor compared to the next film. I will finally be dissecting the infamous 1998 Godzilla. If you're planning on sitting in the front row, bring a raincoat.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Celebrating Mediocrity: Zarkorr! The Invader

There are good movies. Movies in which the director knows what they're doing, and care about what happens on the screen. Movies with a decent script that is transformed onto the screen by the hard work of actors who think deeply about the lines they are about to deliver, and about the history of the character they are portraying. Zarkorr! The Invader is not one of these films. It's facile, the script perfunctory, the monster action divorced from the human plot. It's pretty much everything that I dislike not only about monster movies, but movies in general.

Produced in 1996 by Monster Island Entertainment, a division of Full Moon Enteratinment, a small company dedicated to producing low budget horror films. The Monster Island films are the most perfunctory kaiju films until The Asylum decides to make Attack from Beneath to cash in on Del Toro's Pacific Rim. I suppose we could argue budgetary considerations, but Gareth Edwards' Monsters demonstrates that even microbudget films made with care can be good.

The first four minutes go moderately well. Zarkorr emerges from a bluff in Mount Aurora, and then goes on to stomp the town of Aurora. Since this is not the continuation of a franchise, Zarkorr is all alone, rather than having another monster to fight.

ZARKORR! THE INVADER!

Zarkorr is pretty good looking. As a suit, it's a lot slimmer than the more ponderous monsters I'm used to from Toho. It has a muzzle full of fangs and enormous horns that make it look devilish. Rather than a breath weapon, it shoots some sort of beam from its eyes. The roar is the T-Rex roar from Jurassic Park. Which almost never varies, and gets old pretty fast.

A clearer picture of ZARKORR! THE INVADER!

And the estimated stats for Zarkorr are way off. Here we see him just behind a five story building. He can't be more than half again taller than it, meaning he can't possibly a hundred feet tall, let along the hundred and sixty-five that the movie claims.

ZARKORR! THE INVADER! should be a lot taller than that.

However, when the opening shot of our protagonist is him drinking coffee, I begin to worry that we've entered Coleman Francis territory. Luckily, we aren't. It's really more Ed Wood or Harold P. Warren. Perhaps competent, but at least comprehensible. There are a lot of unanswered questions, however. If it's 10 in California when Zarkorr awakens, why is Tommy drinking coffee at one in the morning? Why is he still wearing his uniform at home?

Tommy drinks coffee before meeting ZARKORR! THE INVADER!

Tommy is visited by tiny projection of an alien, who tells him he has been selected to be the only one who can stop Zarkorr. Like the Shobijin, this contrasts the very tiny, the Proctor, with the huge, Zarkorr. She only exists in his mind, apparently, claiming to be a stimulation into his cerebral cortex. Nevertheless, she casts a shadow, and can interact with objects.

A wee alien comes to warn Tommy about ZARKORR! THE INVADER!

If you ask me, it seems much more likely that she was sent by malicions alien invaders, perhaps the Xilians, actively trying to prevent humanity's successful defense against the invader. Or maybe they're just laughing their asses off as no-man Tommy tries to do something against monstrous Zarkorr. The plot is so stereotypically contrived, the aliens have sent a problem and a solution, and it's up to you, Average Person, to defeat him. And there's no twist. He doesn't win because of his big heart, or because of his upbringing, or any unique qualities of the character. He wins because he finds the MacGuffin provided by the aliens, thanks to one of Dr. Martin's friends, and uses it. And that's not the only script problem. Whenever Tommy describes the alien projection that contacts him, he uses the phrase Tiny Mall Tramp. And while that may be true to life, since Tommy is the average person on the planet, repetition like that is not good writing. And incidentally, if your character says "I know it sounds crazy but..." it's quite possible that your plot is crap.

Pretty much my reaction to the script.

The manufactured conflict of the film is what takes up the majority of the time. Tommy goes to a TV station to talk to a cryptozoologist (Dr. Stephanie Martin, in a possible nod to the 1956 Americanization of Godzilla), and ends up with two security guards' guns, holed up in the men's room with Dr,. Martin as a hostage. This was released only three years after the 1993 double event on May 6, in which two post office workplace shootings occurred within hours of each other. Before the movie is half over, and he's explained his mission twice, using the same words the Proctor used. It's like the writer ran out of words and just started recycling what he'd already done. Pad, pad, pad.

If I'm going to write about the plot, at least I'm going to use Zarkorr pictures

And Tommy isn't sympathetic, unless you like people who fuck up. He loses his head under pressure, consistently does the wrong thing, and couldn't figure his way out of a paper bag. This isn't unique. It recalls the Gamera films, and presages the massively unlikeable characters in Cloverfield. Half an hour in, Tommy has kidnapped and threatened the cryptozoologist at gunpoint, and is melting down. I'd rather be watching any the Gamera films again. Even stock-footage fest Gamera vs Viras.

There's an exciting moment when the Air Force drops a load of napalm on Zarkorr, and Zarkorr clears the skies with its eye beams. It would have been an awesome scene, but I have to picture it myself, because it happens entirely in a radio report. So this is what we see.

Yeah. That's exciting, all right

They then go to the lair of a hacker who is even more annoying than even Tommy. Oh, and the Dr. Martin has decded that she's going to help Tommy. They must end up together in the end. (Future self note: yep, they do) Why? Because she serves no other purpose. She's a prize to be won, who doesn't actually contribute anything.

Ultimately, they discover a crashed UFO with an ultra-hard surface in Arizona. Tommy uses it to reflect Zarkorr's beams back at him, which destroys the monster. Hurray for mediocrity, the world's most average man is now conisering a presidential run.

Would you trust this man with a budget?

This film has two directors; One, Michael Deak, worked on the Zarkorr sequences. In most other films, he would be considered the Special Effects Supervisor. He has gone on to work on Pirates of the Caribbean films, and Tranformers movies. He is also responsible for the suit and monster effects for Monster Islands other outing, Kraa the Sea Monster. Aaron Osbourne, who also directs Kraa the Sea Monster, is better known as the production designer for such films as I am Sam, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and Employee of the Month. But he would only direct three films, two of them the two Monster Island Entertainment films.

ZARKORR! THE INVADER!

What's upsetting about Zarkorr the Invader is not just that it'a terrible movie. It's that it follows the same precis as 1954 Godzilla. A monstrous juggernaut is running amok, and it's up to the protagonst to save the world. Only here, the person who can stop the monster is Joe Average, who the scriptwriter seems to think the audience can probably sympathize with more easily than someone who knows something. Or perhaps because he thought there were more tumbling blocks he could put in the way of Joe Average. But he couldn't think of a better way to get Joe Average into the mix than to make it all an alien test. And that's crap.

The last insult? There's a Zarkorr from Marvel's Tales of Suspense comic. It turns out the was also an issue that name-dropped Kraa, so I think those two points establish a line. Even the title is lazy. Ugh.

ZARKORR! THE INVADER!

Next week, the clock moves to 1997, and we go back to Mothra.